Bill Mandel (1917-2016) RIP. And God help us all.

Among the so many poignantly saddening features of this shockingly tragic and unspeakably insane year, has been the deaths of so many public and private heroes. We all know that many beloved musicians have died this year; but the passing of many other persons who in public and/or private life were champions of humane culture and overall humane social progress, of conscious evolution, is less widely known.

I’d like to take a moment to remember one particular such person among our many recently departed heroes who are precious in the eyes and hearts of those who loved and admired their public and private contribution to the welfare of others. Bill Mandel (1917-2016) passed from among us one week ago, on Thanksgiving Day; he was 99.

Bill was an internationally highly regarded scholar, a life-long activist and champion of human rights, and a long time San Francisco Bay Area figure. For many decades, Bill addressed the public through a weekly radio program, which ran on independent commercial-free stations (KPFA Pacifica, Radio Free Berkeley, and others). Through TV, print journalism, public lectures, and scholarly books, among other means, Bill tirelessly and courageously spoke out against tyranny and injustice in every form. For literally over ninety years, beginning when he was still a child under ten, Bill constantly and repeatedly took and held his stand, often at the risk to his own life, to help make America and the world a better place for all people. The uplifting strength of his courage and conviction is just awesome. There is no better word for it.

Please listen to the audio clip (below) to hear how Bill fearlessly and audaciously spoke truth to power. The power was that stolen and grasped by corrupt and hate filled rightwing extremists within the US Senate, Congress, the courts, the FBI, police forces, and other branches and agencies of the nation’s government. Such fanatics within the government sought to suppress, harass, imprison, and in some cases assassinate citizens who were viewed as insufficiently enthusiastic in their public or private support of the anti-Soviet Cold War.

Known as McCarthyism, this campaign by rightwing war-mongers and hate-mongers acting within the government also extended against citizens known or suspected of being homosexual (LGBTQ), those known or suspected of supporting or even favoring civil rights, and in many cases those whose only “crime,” real or imagined, was being African American, or Jewish or presumed to be Jewish. Creative artists and entertainers of any media, journalists, academics and other intellectuals were also particularly targeted for attack by elected and appointed rightwing (“conservative”) fanatics within our US government. While this infamous campaign of witchhunting is known as McCarthyism, it continued to exist for several years after the death of its namesake Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1957.

In 1960, Bill Mandel was one of many citizens brought before an extrajudicial (and illegal) “court” convening in San Francisco City Hall, in order to attempt to intimidate and pressure Bill and these individuals into confessing to membership (real or imagined) in the Community Party USA, and into giving the names of other persons who might be suspected of engaging in activities regarded by the rightwing fanatics as being “subversive.” Such illegal court proceedings, popularly known as “monkey trails” and “kangaroo courts,” were publicly convened by members of a combined cabal of rightwing extremists within both the US Congress and Senate, formally known as The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The hearings held by this government cabal were for the purpose of terrorizing and punishing citizens accused of activities or attitudes (or even religious or racial identities or heritages) deemed “un-American.”

Those targeted were brought to City Hall by armed police officers, enforcing illegally issued court subpoenas, and ordered to give “testimony” in answer to questions about their public and private lives, including in some cases their sexual behavior or interests, their racial, ethnic, and/or religious identity and background, their political, social, literary, and artistic views, interests and tastes, etc. Part of the purpose of this campaign of harassment was to force confessions regarding alleged membership in the Community Party USA and/or any association with various other groups, and especially to force the giving of names of any and all other persons who also might be alleged to be similarly “un-American” in their actions, thoughts, or backgrounds.

The response by Bill Mandel to these illegal court proceedings is as pertinent today as when he made his statements in San Francisco City Hall in 1960.

May his brave words give courage to you and to all concerned persons in our ongoing present struggle to resist the mounting internal attacks now being made each day against the freedom and security of our nation and our world by those who claim that their campaign of hate, harassment, and fear-mongering represents a popular “mandate” or demand by the citizens of the United States, even though that campaign ticket of hate lost by at least two and a half million popular votes cast by citizens all across the nation.

These 1960 HUAC hearings were open to the public, and were televised on all the national and local TV stations. I went with my parents and uncle to witness first hand some of these hearings taking place in my hometown of San Francisco. Outside the Hall, police waged a bloody riot of beatings and arrests of the thousands of protestors peacefully demonstrating against these illegal hearings. Many of the protestors were students at UC Berkeley, San Francisco Stare College, and other colleges and high schools in the Bay Area. Had my family and I not been able to secure seats in the crowded public witness section of the Hall, we might have been among those protestors brutally beaten and thrown in jail by the police. The famous documentary film, Berkeley in the Sixites, preserves some of the media news footage of these beatings. It’s worth watching again at this time. Also worth viewing are the propaganda films produced and broadcast by the HUAC Committee. Some of these items are available on youtube.

Below the audio clip immediately following, I have included my partial transcript of Bill Mandel’s testimony at the hearings.

House Un-American Activities Committee [HUAC] hearings, May 1960, San Francisco City Hall

Mandel: My name is William Mandel. I live at 233 Lake Drive, Berkeley. By occupation, I am a translator of scientific material, a lecturer, a leader of travel tours, an author, radio and television commentator, and have been a newspaperman at various times, until committees such as this made it difficult for me to continue in some of these fields.

Senator: I say this not facetiously, but in earnest appraisal, you certainly gave a number of activities here! Um, you’re appearing here today in response to a subpoena that was served upon you by this Committee?

Mandel: I do.

Senator: And you are represented by counsel?

Mandel: I am, — to the degree that a counsel not able to speak for me can represent me. By the way, if the television men want some music, put those lights on.

Committee Chairman: I think he was suggesting that they hurt…

Mandel: They can put them on if they want something to show their audiences. No? Fine, you might miss something.

Senator: You want them off? Do I understand that you want the lights on?

Mandel: I want the lights on, precisely! I want the fullest glare of publicity on this Committee’s activity.

(Laughter from public and press observers.)

Senator: Where and when were you born, please, sir?

Mandel: I was born in New York City, on June fourth, 1917.

Senator: And give us a word about your education.

Mandel: Yes, sir. I was engaged, I was educated, in the public schools, junior high schools, and high schools of New York City. I had one semester in biochemistry at the age of 14 at the University of Moscow, USSR. I specify my age so no nonsense about the Lenin School can be asked of me. I then had one year at City College in New York. I was expelled for opposition to military training in 1933 at age 16. In 1947, the Hoover Institute at Stanford University engaged me as a fellow at post-doctoral stipend on the basis of two books I had written, for the specific purpose of compiling an encyclopedia of the USSR. This is my education.

Senator: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?

Mandel: Sir, I am 42 years of age, and have never had to face a jury as defendant, or grand jury as witness, in my life. My research and writing have been so public that two committees similar to this one, the Senate Internal Security Sub-committee, and the McCarthy Committee, subpoenaed me as far back as eight and seven years ago, respectively, for having written a book titled The Soviet Union, Far East, and Central Asia.

No indictment resulted from those hearings either, or from my continued public speaking or writing since that date, sir. Clearly, therefore, I have engaged, — I have committed, — no crime under any of the laws of this country and have not engaged in subversion.

Consequently, I refuse to testify on the grounds that, as a radio and TV public affairs broadcaster, active in those capacities today, the subpoena issued to me interferes with the rights of my stations to schedule informational programs on their merits, and is thus a direct violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and of the people’s right to hear.

Further, as a scholar with a twenty year record of research and public writing and lecturing in my chosen field, the study of the Soviet Union, — a field admitted by all to be one in which this country is in vital need of knowledge, — I refuse to testify on the grounds that the subpoena is a violation of freedom of inquiry, which can only be expressed through the free speech and free press guaranteed in the First Amendment, to the academic community, as to all others.

Lastly, I certainly shall not answer questions representing allegations against me made by persons not present and not identified, whom I cannot confront, and whom my lawyer cannot cross examine as to their truthfulness.

To rest my case solely on the First Amendment would, as thirty-six cases now on the courts show, condemn me to years of court action, at enormous cost. It would cost me my home, and impoverish my family for a very long time to come,— which, of course, is what this Committee desires.

Therefore, I also refuse to testify under my right not to be a witness against myself, a right originated to protect the innocents. The guilty can be convicted by the testimony of others, if there is any real evidence to present.

Senator: Do you honestly apprehend, sir, that if you told this committee, truthfully, while you’re under oath, whether or not you are now this instant, or ever have been, a member of the Communist Party, you would be supplying information which might be used against you in a criminal proceeding?

Mandel: Honorable beaters of children, and sadists—uniformed and in plain clothes, distinguished Dixiecrat wearing the clothing of a gentleman, eminent Republican who opposes an accommodation with the one country with which we must live at peace in order for us all and our children to survive: My boy of fifteen left this room a few minutes ago in sound health and not jailed, solely because I asked him to be in here to learn something about the procedures of the United States government and one of its Committees. Had he been outside, where a son of a friend of mine had his head split by these goons operating under your orders, my boy today might have paid the penalty of permanent injury or a police record for the pitiful desire to come here and hear how this Committee operates. If you think that I am going to cooperate with this collection of Judases, of men who sit there in violation of the United States Constitution, if you think I will cooperate with you in any way, you are insane!

[Intense cheers and applause from observers.]

Committee Chairman: Proceed, your honor.

Senator: Now, sir, were you a lecturer,—were you a lecturer in the California Labor School in San Francisco in nineteen hundred and forty-seven?

[observer applause at mention of the school]

Mandel: Yes, sir, I was. And I lectured on Shostakovich’s oratorio, Song of the Forests—Whadaya know about that!?

Senator: And were you, were you at that time a member of the Communist Party? And did you lecture as a Communist?

Mandel: As I told you before, sir: If there are laws on the books of this country under which any of the activities in which I have engaged publicly and openly — and I’ll be delighted to bring you a list of books literally this long, which either I have written or which have been cited as authority in books written years later in other countries, or journals to which I have contributed, — if any of this public record, almost all of it scholarly by anybody’s definition, is to be regarded, or was regarded, by anyone as criminal activity, there are laws on the books under which the proper authorities of the United States could have taken, or could now take, action against me. I have never disappeared from my home. I have been available at all times. This question has no purpose other than to harass me.

When I was asked this question last in 1953 by the late Joe McCarthy, — and let me say that I am honored when people come up to me on the streets, — perhaps I don’t deserve this honor, — to say “You’re the man who ‘killed’ Joe McCarthy,” because I happened to appear on the first day of the book-burning hearing, and I did my best to conduct myself in the manner in which I am conducting myself today; if there were any such evidence against me under any law, the proper authorities could move against me.

This body is improperly constituted. It is a kangaroo court. It does not have my respect. It has my utmost contempt! And I am not going to answer that question, sir.

Committee Chairman: Proceed, sir, proceed.

Senator: Do you have, do you have present information respecting the operation of the criminal conspiracy dedicated to the overthrow of this government by force and violence, which criminal conspiracy is represented on American soil, in part, by that entity known as the Communist Party?

[Mandel confers with his attorney]

Mandel: My answer is no, sir. And no matter in how many ways you ask that question, I will remain the same.

Senator: Alright, sir: Do you have present information respecting the activities of the Communist Party in Northern California?

Mandel: Would you kindly define what you mean by “present information,” sir? Do you mean, do I read books or newspapers? I read both books and papers!

Senator: [interrupting] …Do you know, from personal experience, in closed Communist Party meetings, the identification of persons who, to your certain knowledge, are now, or in the recent past have been, members of the Communist Party, active in Northern California?

Mandel: My answer is no. And if I did, I would not tell you. But my answer is no.

Senator: Are you now a member of the Communist Party?

Mandel: You’ve got that answer, before.

Senator: I asked you if whether or not you had ever been a member of the Communist Party…

Mandel: You’ve got that answer, before.

Senator: Mr chairman, I respectfully suggest that he be ordered to answer the question of whether or not he is a member of the Communist Party!

Mandel: If you will look at the record of my statement, you will find that that statement covered this question.

Senator: Mister Chairman! I respectfully suggest that the witness be ordered now to answer the question whether or not he is now a member of the Communist Party!

Committee Chairman: This is a most, uh, this is a specific question, on that point, that has not technically been asked…and…I…order you to answer it.

[Mandel confers with his attorney]

Mandel: My, uh,…It’s very fortunate that I have an attorney who seems to think about these things, just as I do — very honored. This question is an invasion of my political privacy. I answered it, at the outset. And no matter how many tricky forms you take to put it again, you will get that same answer. It has been answered!

Senator: Will this record reflect a clear direction, that you have been directed to answer that question, to whether or not you are now, this instant, a member of the Communist Party.

Chairman: …I understand that you meant you wish to indicate that you are declining to answer for the reasons previously indicated; is that the idea?

Mandel: Yes, that is correct.

Chairman: That is what I understood you to try and…

Mandel: That is correct.

Committee Chairman: That’s all we wanted to know. Thank you, sir.

Senator: We have no further questions, Mister Chairman, for this witness.

Bailiff: Witness is through.


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